Cary Grant

Cary Grant was born in Bristol, England, on January 18, 1904. At birth, he was named Archibald Alec Leach.[1] He did not have a happy childhood. His father, Elias James Leach, was an alcoholic, and his mother, Elsie Maria Leach, suffered from clinical depression. His older brother passed away from tuberculosis meningitis four years before Grant was born.[2] The family structure only collapsed from there.

Biographers of the actor have claimed that Grant’s mother blamed herself for her son’s death and was never able to recover from unnecessary guilt.[3] Because of this, Grant did not receive much affection as a child. Later in life, Grant would speak about his relationship with his mother as being so bad that he shadowed those negative experiences into the poor treatment of women later on. He would also say that it took him a long time to realize that his mother was overprotective since she was terrified of losing another child.[4]

When Cary Grant was nine years old, his life was irrevocably changed. His father placed his mother in Glenside Hospital, a mental hospital for the “insane.”[5] It is important to note that most inmates within insane asylums were not insane; they suffered from mental illnesses that could have been appropriately treated if mental illness was seen as a real thing. We can be confident that Elsie Leach’s life after this point was not pleasant.

When his mother was put into the mental hospital, Grant’s father simply told them that she was going away on an extended vacation. He would later say that she had died.[6] Within a year, his father remarried and ‘started a new family.’ It would not be until Grant was thirty-one and his father was on his deathbed that he would discover that his mother was still alive. After twenty-one years of being locked in an asylum, Grant ran to rescue the mother did not know.[7]

One thing that his mother did give her son was a love of theater. Before she was sent away, the pair would often attend the cinema and enjoy the likes of Charlie Chapman, Fatty Arbuckle, Ford Sterling, and many more. At a young age Grant connected with a troupe of acrobatic dancers who trained him as a stilt walker and allowed him to tour with them.[8]

Grant was good at school but was known for being a troublemaker who never did his homework. He probably never did his homework because he spent his time after school doing something he found much more critical, hanging out at theaters. He would do odd jobs around the theater, supposedly to escape his home life.

In 1918, he would get expelled from school.[9] Some say that he did this on purpose. Three days after his expulsion, he rejoined the acrobatic troupe. At this point in life, Grant’s father had moved away for a better job. He seemingly had no problem leaving his underaged son behind. Nevertheless, British authorities demanded answers from the father and threatened action against him. Because of this, Grant’s father signed a three-year contract with the troupe requiring Grant to work for them in return for room and board.[10] Cary Grant quickly became a successful vaudeville actor.

When he came of age, he decided to leave the troupe so that he could stay in the United States after they performed an extended stay there.[11] He found a varied amount of success in America. His vaudeville was considered to be great, yet his acting skills were found to be a bit lacking. He was given many roles, including in some plays produced by the infamous Oscar Hammerstein. It is said that his charm saved him from being fired over lousy acting.[12]

As with many other actors, Grant’s career had a setback when the Great Depression hit, and productions got canceled due to a lack of funds. Luckily, he was one of the few lucky to succeed in Hollywood. One of his first roles, a production entitled Nikki, got him nationwide attention.[13] By this time, his acting had gotten much better, and it did not take him long to sign a four-year contract with Paramount Pictures.[14] There was one catch though. Until then, the infamous Cary Grant was still going by the name Archibald Alec Leach. Paramount required him to change his name to something that sounded more pleasant. Thus, Cary Grant was born.[15]

Grant wanted to become known as the “epitome of masculine glamour.”[16] It is safe to say that he was successful. In fact, the newly coined Grant had little trouble finding success in Hollywood. He made his feature film debut in the 1932 production of This is the Night. He never had to look back. He was quickly type cast as the suave playboy and would go on to star alongside the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, and both of the famous Hepburns.

[1] Graham McCann, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, (London: Fourth Estate, 1997), 13.
[2] Marc Eliot, Cary Grant: A Biography (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2004), 25.
[3] Geoffrey Wansell, Cary Grant, Dark Angel (New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 1996), 14.
[4] Gary Morecambe and Martin Sterling, Cary Grant: In Name Only (Sun Lakes, AZ: Robson Publishing, 2001), 63.
[5] Jerry Vermilye, Cary Grant (Lake Geneva, WI: Pyramid Publications, 1973), 13.
[6] Terrance W. Klein, Vanity Faith: Searching for Spirituality Among the Stars (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 32.
[7] Kieron Connolly, Dark History of Hollywood: A Century of Greed, Corruption and Scandal behind the Movies, 2014th ed. (London, England: Amber Books Ltd, n.d.), 209.
[8] Karen Lane Rood, American Culture after World War II (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1994), 140.
[9] Maurice Fells, The Little Book of Bristol (Cheltenham, United Kingdom: History Press Limited, 2015), 105.
[10] Graham McCann, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, 34.
[11] Paul G. Roberts, Style Icons Vol 1 Golden Boys (New South Wales, Australia: Fashion Industry Broadcast, 2014), 100.
[12] Graham McCann, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, 50-53.
[13] Geoffrey Wansell, Cary Grant, Dark Angel, 21.
[14] Marc Eliot, Cary Grant: A Biography, 54–55.
[15] Marc Eliot, Cary Grant: A Biography, 57.
[16] Graham McCann, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, 65.

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